The hiker leaned on his walking stick, sweat dripping from each eyebrow, off his nose like an old barn faucet, “You’re about a third of the way there.”
Huffing, verging on puffing, I stammered out, “Great.” It was part spit, part response as I grabbed a rock with my right hand and lifted through a worn ledge of desert. The sun rose to my left. A dog flitted past. Two hikers passed me, smiling, on their way down, a woman corrected my route, “This way,” as I wandered off course and wished for those eight strides back. On I walked, trekked, staggered, over rocks, past cactus, scree sliding beneath my light running shoes.
The sign did warn us…
Welcome to Black Mountain
Warning: This is a steep rocky primitive trail
Please help keep Black Mountain Beautiful by staying on the designated Path
Distance: 2.2 miles Round Trip
Enjoy your hike
I gave it little thought. Now, a third of the way to the top, I started to become a believer, as I thought about the last three things I drank, two local draft IPAs at the Buffalo Chip Saloon last night and a cup of room-brewed coffee, complete with non-dairy creamer this morning. I yearned for water, as I watched a water bottle slosh from a woman’s pack, a few hundred feet above me. Hiking shoes would have helped, water might have saved.
I twisted through natural crevices, snaked around boulders, navigated like a mountain goat, pulled off a long-sleeve running shirt, finally seeing the top, or what I thought was the top.
“How much farther?” I asked a descending climber.
“Another mile or so.”
I grunted. He laughed.
Onward and upward, I reached the top – a flat, scraggly, roundish platform of peace. I ascended about 10 minutes later than I expected, well past 8 o’clock. You should never hurry a hike, but I needed to get back to the Carefree Resort to listen to the final conference on medication at the National HBPA convention. Yes, medication, I felt a long way away from a conference on medication. It was nice to feel a long way from a conference on medication.
I took a long, deep breath and slowly turned 360 degrees. The sun burst above the horizon, creating an artist’s mist between the mountains and the sky. Cacti jutted like buoys in a frozen ocean. Rocks and boulders laid and leaned everywhere, like they had fallen off the back of a delivery truck and were forgotten, centuries ago.
All I needed was a guitar.
“Whew,” I said, trying to slow my breathing.
“Welcome to Arizona,” a woman said, sharing a rock with a friend.
I didn’t even know they were there.
“Be careful going down, it can get slippery,” she said, handing my phone back to me.
“Thanks,” I said, sliding my phone into the back pocket of my sweat-stained khaki shorts, and headed down, hurrying and relaxing all at the same time, content to have pushed away my laptop and pulled on my sneakers. At 44, I find myself observing more than participating, I thought of this as I descended, the euphoria of the climb replacing the arduousness of the climb.
There is nothing like going downhill, after going uphill. I reached a paved road at the bottom and arrived at my rental car. I looked back at Black Mountain, my new friend, standing in splendid isolation.
If I squinted, I could just make out the path to the top.